The eccentric guesthouse that Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry designed for Twin Cities arts patrons Mike and Penny Winton sold for $905,000 at auction in Chicago on Tuesday.
Once valued at $4.5 million, the house had been estimated to sell for up to $1.5 million. But after less than five minutes of lackluster bidding, auctioneer Richard Wright declared it “Sold” to a telephone bidder for $750,000, plus auction house fees.
“It’s a bargain for an architectural masterpiece,” Wright had said, seconds earlier, in an unsuccessful effort to elicit higher offers.
The new owner, an unidentified person from outside Minnesota, will have to move the building, at substantial additional cost, to a new location from its present site in a field outside Owatonna. “I’m disappointed there wasn’t more concrete bidding from local parties,” Wright said after the sale. But, he added, “we had press coverage from all over the globe and bidding interest from coast to coast, so I felt glad to find a new home for it.”
The house was sold by the University of St. Thomas, which acquired it in 2007 as a gift from real estate developer Kirt Woodhouse. He had purchased it from the Wintons in 2001 when it was the guesthouse on an 11-acre estate overlooking Lake Minnetonka. Woodhouse subdivided the estate and donated the Gehry structure, then valued at $4.5 million, to the university after he was unable to sell the property with the building on it.
“I’m dying to know who the buyer is and where the house is going to go,” said Victoria Young, the St. Thomas architectural historian who oversaw the sale. School officials “seem to be happy” about the sale results, she said.
St. Thomas had the 2,300-square-building cut into eight sections and then moved it 110 miles south to Owatonna, where it was reassembled. That move took 18 months and cost an undisclosed sum estimated to be in the high six figures. St. Thomas reopened the house in 2011 as part of the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center.
In February 2014, the university announced that it would sell the site because it was losing money. Meridian Behavioral Health, a New Brighton-based company, bought the center and converted it into an addiction-treatment facility. The university retained title to the Winton house, however, and promised to move it by August 2016. It decided to auction the house after options for its reuse proved unfeasible.
Commissioned by the Wintons in 1984 and completed in 1987, the guesthouse is considered an early masterpiece of Gehry’s sculptural style. It consists of several distinctive shapes — a metal-covered cone, a limestone-covered block, a brick cube, a plywood-covered garage, an aluminum-clad cube — that cluster together like a miniature village. Each section is a separate room with a designated function — kitchen, living space, three bedrooms, garage.
It won House and Garden magazine’s design award for 1987. Coupled with a 1986 Walker Art Center retrospective of the architect’s work, the house helped boost Gehry to international renown.